Boiling Frogs at the Southwark Playhouse is The Factory’s first full length play written by Steven Bloomer. The Factory have in recent years become synonymous with their stagings of classics such as Hamlet and The Seagull with a revolving cast and audiences who give personal items as props and often pick who each character is to be played by. What this offers is a completely spontaneous form of theatre, where each night the events that unfold are completely different from the night before. The Factory’s work often pops up in locations across London briefly before disappearing once more. Boiling Frogs however is The Factory’s first attempt at digging their heels into a framework and unleashing their theatrical talent with little help from the audience.
Mark Stone is well known to the police officers for his protests against the ‘authoritarian state’ he lives in, so much so that in the past month he has been arrested 6 times. His recent girlfriend broke up with him for getting sick of spending her weekends under arrest and sitting in police cells. As a carnival to celebrate London and its inhabitants brings the city to dancing and rejoicing, Mark organises a protest picnic. Dressed as superman and bearing a blank placard whilst eating sandwiches might not sound much of a protest, but where any ‘organised gathering of people to protest against political activity’ is against the law, it’s not surprising when Mark finds himself sitting in an interview room denying to answer questions as it breaks his civil rights to be recorded on tape.
Over the course of Boiling Frogs we see the unravelling of Mark’s political actions and opinions – the way he views the slow decline of freedom against the ever-rising all-seeing big brother and authoritarian state of police officers and capital punishment for terrorists. We learn that if you put a frog in boiling water it will jump out to save itself, however putting a frog in cold water and slowly turning up the heat it does nothing, and dies. The perfect metaphor for Bloomer’s play and an outward look at our own society today.
As a piece of theatre The Factory have themselves a gripping, superbly acted and directed play. As a piece of writing, Bloomer’s play is an excellent look at the trust no one society that we have become, weaving both political ideologies against finely tuned characters who deliver punch after punch of thought-provoking material. Similar to The Factory’s other work, Boiling Frogs is an urgent ‘here-for-the-moment’ event but truly shakes you by collar whilst turning your perspectives upside down.
The work is intimate even in the huge arch of the Southwark Playhouse, which gives Boiling Frogs an intense and (excuse the bad wit) boiling over the top atmosphere within the theatre. Tristan Beint as Mark* is phenomenal as one of the leads who from the moment he enters the space throughout the course of 90 minutes is a joy to watch. Colin Hurley as the Policeman* has an excellent sense of comic timing and brings to Boiling Frogs the light hearted foolery that is needed for such a provoking piece. As Goerge* the man dressed as Jesus (although let’s be honest, he really does look like Gandhi) Paul Sharma is oddly comforting as a performer who balances the seriousness of his crimes against the comical notions of never been arrested before. Lastly Alan Morrissey as the community support officer Tom* is sly and manipulative within the show, but delivers the driving force for the climax to Boiling Frogs.
Aside from a cast who had me completely gripped from the outset, and Bloomer’s dialogue that is some of the best writing I’ve seen this year, Alex Hassell’s direction works wondrously. Through carefully structured timings and Bloomer’s text, Hassell keeps Boiling Frogs simple yet deadly to watch. There is a tendency to get wrapped up in the story and characters, but with any gripping narrative comes the push back to reality which comes hard and fast.
The Factory have produced one of the most important plays I have seen this year. It’s a bold statement to make I will admit, but outside of the West End and new writing venues such as the Royal Court, Boiling Frogs is gutsy, delivering punch after punch of gripping dialogue and narrative which will challenge your perspectives – and all in the hidden arches under London Bridge. Theatre should suck you in through narrative, and leave you with something, Boiling Frogs however sucks you in – takes you on a political journey – and spits you out the other side. I was left with so many questions, and an outlook towards extremists and terrorists and every other form of ‘ist’ that I’ve never considered before. What better to have theatre change, challenge and provoke your beliefs?
Boiling Frogs by The Factory is an outstanding piece of writing and gripping acting that will put this company firmly on the theatrical map. Catch this performance or any performance by The Factory and witness theatre as it should be.
Boiling Frogs is being performed Tues – Sun until 2nd October at the Southwark Playhouse. To book see the theatre website here.
*Please note that the cast as described in this review may not be the cast that you see on your own visit. Check the Southwark Playhouse website to see who is performing on each night.